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  • Interiors, Histories, and the Preservation of Chicago’s Hull House Settlement
  • Erin Cunningham (bio)

In June 1967 the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum opened on the new University of Illinois campus in Chicago (Figure 1). Designed to commemorate Hull House founder Jane Addams, the museum was constructed from the remnants of the nationally renowned Hull House Settlement, which only six years earlier, in 1961, had spanned an entire city block on Chicago’s West Side.1 In contrast to the sprawling settlement, the museum included only two of the original thirteen structures: a mansion built in 1856 for Chicago real estate broker Charles Hull and a brick dining hall Jane Addams had built in 1906. Completely refaced with new brick, the exterior of the mansion was restored to approximate its 1856 appearance—that of an Italianate Victorian mansion with Corinthian columns, a large portico, and a hipped roof, which had stood on the outskirts of Chicago. The mansion’s restored exterior did not hint at its storied life. Before Addams and her cofounder, Ellen Gates Starr, rented the mansion in 1889, it was successively a hospital, a saloon, a tenement, a home for the elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, and a desk factory. By the end of the century, the mansion was “almost submerged” with additions that architectural firm Pond & Pond had built, reflecting the influences of the English Tudor, arts and crafts, and prairie styles.2

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Figure 1.

Photocopy of restored Jane Addams’s Hull House mansion and Chicago Circle Center behind, Chicago, Illinois, 1968. 057-00-01 Chicago Circle Center (1968), UIC ARCHIVES, University of Illinois at Chicago Library.

On the interior the restored mansion’s orderly center-hall plan also did not reveal the full extent of its remarkable transformation from a two-story suburban home to a sprawling interconnected complex that Eleanor Roosevelt once likened to a “rabbit warren” and social activist Beatrice Webb described as a “continuous passage leading nowhere in particular” (Figure 2).3 The double parlors were staged as mid-nineteenth-century interiors furnished with newly polished wood floors, replica “oriental” rugs, and custom-made electric chandeliers—a direct reference to the house’s original gas lighting. The reception room showcased photographs of Addams and images and maps of the Hull House Settlement. And the octagon room housed a simple memorial to its founder; at its center stood a bronze bust of Addams on a pedestal. The Hull-House Museum’s careful reconstruction and tidy presentation concealed not only the evolution of its interiors but a divisive restoration, at once celebrated as “immaculate” and condemned as “bastardized.”4 [End Page 53]

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Figure 2.

First-floor plan of the restored Hull House. Drawn by Erin Cunningham, 2016.

The Hull House project invigorated officials, residents, and preservationists in 1961, almost two years before New York’s infamous demolition of Penn Station and five years before the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. This story of the preservation of Hull House’s interiors highlights the voices of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, stakeholders. These stakeholders include Hull House’s community—residents, neighbors, and associates—as well as the University of Illinois and its bureaucracy, which handled the restoration of Hull House between 1962 and 1967. In interpreting Hull House’s current incarnation, these voices are critical. The decisions of the Subcommittee on Memorabilia, which was appointed by the university in 1963 and ultimately oversaw the interior restoration of the mansion, contribute yet another layer. Building on Hull House’s histories, the testimonies of people associated with Hull House, and archival evidence, this investigation turns our attention to the inside, to the places we inhabit, and draws on stakeholder voices to put people at the center of the preservation of interior spaces.5

The Community

When the city council approved the Harrison-Halsted site for the new University of Illinois at Chicago campus in 1961, it ignited disbelief from Hull House residents and neighbors, from the Chicago community, and from the larger, national social work community. Letters flooded the offices of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, University of Illinois president...


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pp. 53-64
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